Chili cook-off competitors find unique ways to turn up the heat
by Bart Mendoza
Jun 21, 2013 | 1252 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The grass area near the lifeguard tower in Ocean Beach at the foot of Abbott Street will overflow with hungry visitors eager to try the selection of chili recipes cooked up during the chili cook-off element of the Ocean Beach Street Fair on Saturday, June 22. Photo by Jim Grant I The Beacon
The grass area near the lifeguard tower in Ocean Beach at the foot of Abbott Street will overflow with hungry visitors eager to try the selection of chili recipes cooked up during the chili cook-off element of the Ocean Beach Street Fair on Saturday, June 22. Photo by Jim Grant I The Beacon
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Servers dish up some tasty chili samples to visitors during last year’s chili cook-off competition. A word of advice: get there early before the samples run out. Typically, the chili disappears by 2 p.m., if not before.                                                                Photo by Jim Grant I The Beacon
Servers dish up some tasty chili samples to visitors during last year’s chili cook-off competition. A word of advice: get there early before the samples run out. Typically, the chili disappears by 2 p.m., if not before. Photo by Jim Grant I The Beacon
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Though there are dozens of activities at the annual Ocean Beach Street Fair, the event’s signature component is the chili cook-off competition.

Taking place at Veterans Plaza at the foot of Newport Avenue, the tasting begins at 11 a.m. — though be prepared. The line typically begins forming at 10 a.m.

Tickets for tasting and judging the concoctions of the various chili-making entrants are $1 for two servings, or for $10, visitors can get a people’s choice ticket, allowing them to sample all of the teams’ chili offerings.

This year, there will be nearly two dozen competitors in two categories — restaurant and amateur — with judging based on consistency, smell, color and taste.

According to Dave Martin, president of the Ocean Beach Town Council and owner of Shades restaurant, there are, of course, prizes for the winners. But Martin said the main motivation between many of the competitors is bragging rights.

“The entrants take this extremely seriously,” Martin said. “They work on their recipes all year round and do what they can, go to whatever marketing extent they can to get people to sample their chili.”

He said this extends to the recipes that go into the various versions of the dish.

“It’s always great fun to see how people have decorated their booth to draw attention, or see the extent to which they’ll go to make things different,” Martin said.

“I use ground corn in my recipe, but in the 10 years I’ve done this, I’ve seen just about everything you can imagine,” he said. “I’ve seen them use gunpowder from a blank that’s been fired, I’ve seen them use rattlesnake. A lot of them use bison. Just about anything to make it stand out. However, a lot of people these days are going toward the vegetarian taste.”

The chili cook-off is an extremely popular contest, with the sound of a bullhorn setting off a stampede of hungry guests.

Luckily, if the competition chili is gone, chili connoisseurs have the option of buying some of the 60 gallons of committee chili, provided by Shades. Both beef and vegetarian varieties will be available at $2 a bowl.

“It takes us three days total to make,” Martin said. “It’s a day to get all the ingredients together and then we cook all the way through the event.”

Visitors are advised to arrive early because the chili pots are usually empty by 2 p.m.

All the proceeds from the chili cook-off go toward the annual Ocean Beach Fourth of July fireworks display.



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